Rising importance of automation in duck processing industry

Duck meat is growing steadily in popularity. China is the main producer and accounts for some 70% of annual production volume, which is now well in excess of 4.5 million metric tons. Duck processors around the world are being faced with a shortage of labor. Automation can replace skilled workers at many places in the factory, and should equal or even better exceed the manual results in terms of quality and visual presentation.

Posted on Aug 25 ,00:05

Rising importance of automation in duck processing industry

Marel itself has been present in the duck sector for many decades. Its takeover of PMJ, a specialist in duck processing equipment, in 2021 has made it even stronger. Marel PMJ is now the only full-line supplier to the poultry processing industry. Marel PMJ primary and secondary processing systems can handle Pekin, Barbary, Muscovy and Mullard ducks at line speeds of up to 7,000 ducks per hour. They handle product with the utmost care, safeguarding presentation, quality and yield.

As many processed ducks are still sold whole, skin quality is very important. This is particularly true in South-East Asia, where in some 3,000 bph processing plants, more than fifty operators are involved in manual pinning. Further operators are then needed to check skin quality in the secondary process. Automation, therefore, has the potential to save large numbers of people.


Marel PMJ offers a wide range of plucking equipment, including Contramatic and drum pluckers. Depending on the task to be performed, Marel PMJ will always specify the most suitable plucker line-up.

The Contramatic plucker consists of two counter-rotating drums equipped with long ribbed plucking fingers and, where specified, is always the first machine in a plucking line-up, where it removes most of the feathers leaving a minimum of finishing work to do.

Marel PMJ’s drum plucker can handle a wide variation in duck weights and really comes into its own when skin quality is paramount, as is always the case in South-East Asian processing plants. Drum plucking is in fact a traditional off-line way of inserting birds in a rotating drum where the centrifugal forces combined with the drum walls do the plucking job. It allows for easy adjustments to plucking time, rotation speed and number of products. Marel PMJ keeps drum plucking as much in-line as possible. The only labor required in a Marel PMJ drum plucking line is for reshackling ducks to the processing line after plucking. Everything else happens automatically, resulting in very considerable labor savings.

Waxing and evisceration

After plucking, ducks are waxed to remove stubble and down. During wax treatment, ducks can be shackled by both the legs and the head. This is known as three-point suspension. In this situation, a carrousel machine places the head of each duck automatically in the center slot of each shackle. Shackled this way, wax cannot enter the duck’s beak. To ensure sustainability, impurities picked up by the wax during the process are removed and the wax is recycled.

When hourly throughputs reach a certain level, automatic evisceration becomes a realistic proposition. Marel PMJ can offer full automation beginning with vent opening and finishing with inside/outside washing. The Vent Opener makes a hole just big enough for the spoons of the Nuova automatic eviscerator to enter. The Marel PMJ eviscerator removes internal organs cleanly, carefully and hygienically, depositing them in a tray on a synchronized belt. Both organs and the duck carcass, which they have come from, can then be inspected together by a veterinarian.

Necks and tongues

After evisceration, four automatic machines take care of the neck area. These are the Neck Skin Slitter, which applies a vertical slit to the neck skin, the Head Cutter/Tongue Harvester, which cuts off heads in such a way that tongues can be harvested manually, the Neck Skin Cleaner, which removes any food or windpipe remnants and the Neck Breaker, which cracks and removes the neck. A Final Inspection Machine, which sucks out any remnants left after evisceration, and an Inside/Outside Washer complete the line.

Popular giblets

Duck giblets are particularly popular in South-East Asian markets. Marel PMJ offers automatic equipment to make their harvesting less labor-intensive, whilst ensuring the highest levels of yield, quality and presentation. For example, Marel PMJ can provide equipment to separate gizzards from intestines, wash them, cut off their edible lobes and finally finish them by removing excess fat.

Chilling and distribution

Once ducks have been chilled in either water, air or a combination of both (Marel PMJ can offer all such systems), they must be weighed, quality graded and distributed for packing whole or for cutting up. The superfast in-line SmartWeigher ensures that all ducks are weighed extremely accurately. For quality grading, Marel PMJ offers, besides its innovative SmartWeigher, its QS3 semi-automatic quality grading station. Innova PDS software, programmed by plant management, then ensures that all products are distributed to their most profitable destination.

Mimicking manual cutting

When it comes to portioning whole ducks, Marel PMJ can offer its tried and tested, high-speed ACM-NT automatic cut-up system. The system can cut ducks into wing, breast, front half, leg and drumstick portions. In designing the system’s modules, Marel development engineers have mimicked manual cutting techniques. Both the quality of cut and yields therefore equal or even surpass those achieved by hand.

Software is essential

When it comes to optimum production efficiency, knowledge is key. “You don’t know what you don’t know.” Innova software ties the whole process together, giving real-time detailed information on the process and on exactly what has been produced and when. This information is made available centrally on easy-to-read dashboards. Innova can track ducks through the process, offering the full product-by-product traceability increasingly insisted upon by both major supermarkets and leading fast-food chains.

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